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Posts Tagged ‘food riot’

“The ranks wait on, all merged in the gloom.

Only when a woman has to leave the line, or a child comes from home bringing a stone bottle of
hot water to warm the feet, or someone collapses from exhaustion – as happens not infrequently –
then those near wake from their doze.

A fine rain begins to fall, and they huddle still closer together. They have brought with them the
atmosphere of their overcrowded dwellings, the distinctive effluvia of the various diseases which
are devouring them-lice, scabies, boils, rashes. There is no more soap to be had in Germany, only
substitute stuff made from clay and sand without fat. The stench of open sores, the smell of
unwashed clothes, the cold odour of bad tobacco, mingle with the vapours of the slaughter-yard and hang like a foetid cloud over the people.

There is a disturbance among the crowd by the street lamp. A few young communists are pushing their way through; they have a pot of paste and a bundle of posters, one of which they stick
on the wall. Those around Truda Müller have been wakened, too; “Look out what you’re doing,
treading on my feet!”

“Sorry, you shouldn’t have such a pair of stilts!”
“What do you mean, sorry? Like me to put my feet in my pocket I suppose, eh?”
“The young people of today….”
“What are you doing pushing in here?”
“Don’t get excited! I’ve got my own place a long way forward. I only want to have a word with my neighbour here!”

Lucy Lange has vacated her place and come back to have a yarn with Truda Müller.

“Did you see them, Frau Müller, the fellows with the posters? And yesterday evening too, while it was still light, they had a meeting again at the beer house, the “Schusterkeller” at the corner, and
the professor from our house – you know, Duncker, second floor, front – he was there, with his wife
too! These Independents, what do they want I wonder – Yes, and that porter woman of ours, pity
she doesn’t mind her own business! I bet she knows where the rabbits in the cellar disappear to.
Feeds them with a few potato-peelings, and then, hey presto, and they’re gone – And that Möhring
woman too, with her soldier man! Why the whole house is talking about it….”

Truda Müller casts a warning glance in the direction of the little girl Lena.

But Lucy goes on, with a wave of the hand:

“What, her! She is all there, don’t you worry! But that’s a fact, what I was saying about Möhring. And her soldier, too – a deserter, I dare say. And her husband killed not six months ago! –
By the way, how is your husband doing? – I say, my father had such a row with me. Said I mustn’t
write to Karl Raumschuh … that’s my fiancé, you know – because he’s a sailor! …”

One of the leave-men turns round, and a woman also:
“My hat, but can’t she talk, eh?”
“And such things!”
“What do you mean, such things? Can’t I talk with my neighbour about my fiancé if I want to? The sailors aren’t such a bad lot anyway; they do want peace!”

She turns to Truda Müller again:

“Karl wrote and told me he means to come to Berlin when he is demobilized. He’s going to look for work here. Yes, and your little boy, how is he getting on?”

Truda Müller is only listening with half an ear. She is troubled that she cannot picture dearly to herself the face of her child: “I don’t know – I ought to have telephoned”

A herd of cattle surges along on the far side of the wall of the slaughter-yard. One can hear the curses of the drivers, the blows of the sticks against the flanks of the animals, and quite near, the
hollow bellowing of an ox.

Now a light, like red smoke, shows from one of the sheds, and there are sounds of activity in the
yard.

The queue numbers over two thousand.

And before the markets and retail shops of Berlin are standing perhaps as many queues. In
Munich and Hamburg and Dresden, everywhere the same. Coal-less days, bread made of sawdust,
shirts made from stinging nettles, boots made from paper. In some country districts the fire-stick
has been introduced.

There is food to be had, of course, from the smugglers. Soldiers’ wives, if they have two
children, get an allowance of only 48 marks; if more, then 50 or 60 marks-hardly enough to enable
them to pay the extortionate prices asked. So they go to work in the munition factories, and clothe
themselves in old army clothes which they remake. In wooden-soled shoes they stand in queues –
for meat, for margarine, for synthetic jam, for potatoes, for substitute stuffs of every kind…

Business has begun in the slaughter-yard.
The first wagon rolls out through the gate. It is laden with sides of pork. Tender and newly washed the carcases lie in the grey light of dawn.

The gas-lamp at the corner has gone out. And the police are there again.
The people along the wall begin to stir-like hens waking on the perch and preening their feathers.

The women remove their threadbare coverings. The men lift their noses from the collars of their
coats and set their caps back from off their faces. “Hey, stop your pushing, you!”

“It’s the kid there – they are always trying to worm their way in. You stay where you are, and
don’t go making trouble!”

It is the woman beside the little girl who says this, the one with the curling-papers – she has long
skirts on too. Lena can’t abide women with long skirts. She knows from bitter experience – the
longer the skirts the longer the tongue. Least of all can she stick being called “a kid”. As if she
wouldn’t be leaving school soon, and didn’t do most of the housework already! You see, her uncle
goes to work and her aunt – she’s got a proper fat belly already – it can’t be long now. Then will
come all the bother with the napkins…

The “Carry on” propaganda for the war has found a place even here. On the wall, which is
surmounted by broken glass and three strands of barbed wire, are posted appeals for the Ninth War
Loan-signed by Field Marshal von Hindenburg, Prince Max of Baden, Secretary of State Erzberger.

There is even a placard signed by Scheidemann, an exhortation in beautiful gothic characters:

Let everyone who has money subscribe!
It is no sacrifice
To invest money at 5 per cent
where it is safe as a ward in chancery!

Diagonally across the paragraph is pasted the propaganda strip of the Spartacist League which
the young fellows with the paste pot put up during the night. Two lines of crude lettering:

The war is for the rich!
The poor pay for it in corpses!

The meat-issue has begun at last.

The people are admitted in batches, a hundred at a time. The police count off twenty-five rows,
and each person gets a half-pound of meat. The meat is that of cattle which the inspector has
condemned; the meat from healthy animals passes through other channels, through the butchers’
shops, to that section of the population which can pay the high prices asked there.

It is another hour before Truda Müller reaches the shed. And behind her are seven hundred
people. She receives her meat, as does the file behind her, also. Of the next row only one receives
his ration – the rest get nothing.

The supply is exhausted – Sold out.

And 700 persons still standing in the street.

The police cannot hold back the mob. They surge up to the gate, and in to the sheds. They must see with their own eyes that nothing more is left. They gaze at the meat-hooks around the walls and
at the empty counters. The foremost force their way in to the very chopping-blocks where an
assistant is busy sweeping away the last splinters of bone.

The shed resounds with the angry cries of the crowd.

“Dirty swindlers!”
“Profiteers!”
“Hoarders!”

“They put some aside before they started.”

“Yes, if you’ve got money, you can get anything.” – “…And without queuing up too!” – “When
is the swindle going to stop?”

“Smash up the whole gang!”

The women stand, following with their eyes those who have received their portion. An old man
with a last wisp of grey hair on his head has taken off his cap and is trying to conceal his piece of
meat within it. The cap he covers with the palm of his hand.

The women edge up close to the old fellow. He can feel their hunger and lowers his eyes.
“And the likes of him eat what little there is.”
“Yes, and even get extra milk off the Council.”
“I don’t know what they go on living for.”

“Don’t talk rot! They feel hunger, same as you do. It’s the big slugs as eat up everything.”
“And our children…”

With a sense of guilt the old man, quite persuaded his life is not worth his meat, looks for a way of escape through the angry mob.

The police clear the shed. “Move along! Out of it!”
“D’you think I’m deaf?”
“Out of it! Move along!”
“Steady on there, constable!” – “Dare say you still get plenty to eat, what?”
“The police? You bet! But if the likes of us want a little bit of meat….”
“They ought to be in the trenches with our husbands!”
“Hey, you take your hands off me!”
“Hands off be damned – you hop it!”

 The police-blue uniforms, spiked helmets, truncheons in hand, scatter the mob and drive them along the streets. The women in their heavy cloaks, laden with footstools and blankets, move along
with difficulty.

The gate of the slaughter-house is closed once more and the crowd gradually lost in the side
streets.

Truda Müller has gone to the nearest telephone box.

Lucy Lange and Lena Hanke have come with her. She calls the hospital and asks in the
children’s ward after the condition of her son. She has to wait for an answer; then she hears a calm,
matter-of-fact voice from the hospital:

“He died last night at eleven o’clock!”

 Truda Müller gazes at the telephone, timorously she hangs the receiver back on the hook.

“Well – how is he?” asks Lucy Lange. The woman makes no answer.

Yesterday, at eleven – no, that is beyond her to picture. She does not want to think the thought to its end. Suddenly she wants nothing. She opens the door. Once outside she begins to run, without
being sensible of the weight of her body, without feeling anything at all. In an open place she comes
to a standstill – Forckenbeck Platz, she reads absently. Bewildered she still holds the basket of meat
in her hands. The almost leafless branches of the trees are swaying against a leaden sky. Truda
Müller sees all things as she has never seen them before, as if she were now seeing them for the first
time.

At eleven o’clock-she was in bed; it was at eleven that neighbour Lange stumped out in his
heavy boots, banging the door after him. She suddenly remembers her husband. It is over a year
since he was home on leave. So long since he saw the boy, and now he will never see him again…
She does not know how she found her way back, but here she is again in Boxhagenerstrasse, in
front of the baker’s shop. Never again will the boy flatten his nose against the window-pane; never
again ask for a penny with which to buy a piece of fruit tart. Never again.

He died at eleven.

She arrives at her house; she climbs slowly up the stairs, shuts the door after her. The dim light
from the courtyard falls upon her unmade bed. And there is the cot, and beneath it the little shoes;
she stoops and picks them up. They had been kicked out at the toes; only yesterday she had them
back from the cobbler.

With the shoes still in her hand she sits down on the edge of the bed.
And so her neighbours find her – Frau Lange, and Hanke, and the porter woman.

“Frau Müller ….”
“Lucy told us… .”
“Come, Müller, bear up!”
“It might be worse, you know-just think if anything should happen to your husband. He’s still out in the trenches remember!”

“…And all the trouble one has to rear them!”
“Consumption it was, of course – my husband said so from the beginning.”
 “Children are such weaklings these days.”
 “One must be thankful he was still so little. When they’ve grown up and you’ve had so much more trouble with them, then …”
“You know Frau Duncker? the professor’s wife in the front block. Well, she says: So long as the war lasts and the workers have to sweat their guts out for a starvation wage, the women should go
on strike and refuse to have any more children.”

“What does she know? She only gets it out of books.”
“Never mind, she’s right all the same – so we ought.”
The porter woman looks at Frau Hanke, who has folded her hands over her stomach:
“Yes, no more war, or no more children.”
“And when is the funeral?”

 “Goodness me, if she hasn’t left the meat in the basket all this time! Why, it will go bad!” exclaims Frau Lange unwrapping it. She fills a pot with water and puts the piece of meat in it.
“There now, it will be cooked at least. So. And now a pinch of salt.”

Truda Müller gets up and fetches the salt.

Now Lucy has come in, and Möhring and her soldier. “Everybody has his pack to carry these
days,” says the soldier. “I had a daughter once, and when I came back from the Front….”

“And Max was such a darling little boy,” says Möhring.
“It’s all the fault of the war,” continues the soldier.
“But it won’t stop of itself. If only those fools at the Front would take a pull and turn the guns”
Truda Müller stands helpless in the middle of her room until the women have gone at last.

“Müller, dear, you know you can knock on the wall if you want any- thing,” says Frau Lange as she
leaves.

But Truda Müller cannot stay in the house. She hastens out into the street again.

At the door she meets a woman with a savoy cabbage under her arm, who nods to her just as if
nothing had happened. And at the tram-stop over the way people are waiting for the tram, just as on
any other day.

She hurries along the street not conscious whither she would go. With unusual precision she sees
the persons and things which she passes by, but only as so many unrelated incidents. She loses
herself in external phenomena, and remains utterly absorbed until fresh ones appear, then they in
their turn take automatic possession of her. Now it is a tattered poster on a wall; now a number on a
house – 26; a man picking up bits of paper and lugging after him a sack already half-filled; a
schoolgirl with skimpy pigtails pushing a pram full of mended uniforms; two policemen – their
tunics, grown too big for them, hanging slackly about their bellies; a pedlar with a hand-barrow,
trading little bundles of kindling-wood for potato-peelings.

“Peelings-potato-peelings!” he cries.

“Peelings-potato-peelings …” it goes singing monotonously, endlessly through her head. Until
she pulls up suddenly in front of two straining horses and is almost caught beneath the wheels of a
dray.

“Silly ass! – why don’t you look where you’re going!”
“You were lucky that time, miss!”
She sees the dusty face of the driver, she sees the wagon, piled high with rolls of ration-paper, as

it reels past her and turns in at a gateway. And wagon and driver and passers-by, all seem unreal to
her and far away.

Everything appears to her unfamiliar and meaningless.

Yet it is all the same, just as on any other day.

Berlin standing in queues, mending soldiers’ uniforms, printing newspapers; discussing Wilson’s
latest note, studying the latest saccharine and fat ration-cards just issued by the Food Office,
arguing about the col- lapse of Turkey, the defection of Austria, and the peace.

Everyone in his place, everyone going his accustomed way.”

-Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen.  London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 29-32
 

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